The Best…

I mentioned last week I’m working on a new website. I hope to launch it in the near future, and I’ll be sure to let you know when it’s ready.

My goal is to have a page on the website where I can share my story and travels through photos, so the project this afternoon has been looking through photos from various trips I’ve done over the last several years. As I looked at photos from Afghanistan, Turkey, Tajikistan, China, Jordan, Holland, Germany, Czech Republic, the UK, Ireland, and more, I realized just how much God has allowed me to see and do in the last thirty-six years.

Yes, there are things I haven’t gotten to do, promises made that weren’t kept, disappointments in abundance at times. During this past week, I have learned that without God’s intervention, another disappointment (with the potential to alter my future in major ways) may be waiting just around the corner.

Even still, God has been faithful. I have lived a pretty remarkable life so far, and I get the feeling it is still just getting to the good part. The best is yet to come!

I don’t know what story you have lived so far. I would imagine there have been some difficult chapters and some good ones too. Maybe you’ve seen the world, or maybe you’ve seen just around your own neighborhood. Perhaps you’re living your dream, or maybe you’re currently living a nightmare. Whatever your story is right now, I believe the best is still yet to come.

The God we serve is full of so much more than we can imagine, and He longs for us to open ourselves to receive more of Him all the time. He is faithful to show up in the midst of our stories and bring His best to us if we will allow Him, and His supply is limitless. No matter how many good gifts He has already poured into your life, there are always more available.

I don’t know what will happen in my life during the next few months. I don’t even know what will happen tomorrow. None of us know how the current events in our lives will turn out, but that’s okay. As we put our trust in God and allow Him to work in and through us, the best is always ahead of us! Let’s run into the days ahead with our eyes fixed on Him and our faith firmly rooted in His goodness.

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God’s Handiwork

This gallery contains 16 photos.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I thought for today’s post I’d share some photos from outings I’ve taken with friends during the last eight weeks. One thing struck me as I was going through the photos: The God who spoke all of nature into existence, took time to form each of us by hand […]

A Visit to “My Island”

My parents came to see me! After 1 year, 1 month, and 1 week, I was reunited with two of my favorite people on the planet, and I was a little surprised at the realization that accompanied their 2.5 week visit…

Ireland is home.

I know I’ve said that before, but if I had any doubt before the arrival of Mom & Dad, it vanished as I showed them around parts of 18 of the 32 counties on this island. We covered quite a bit of ground, and every mile and every step deepened my feeling of being “home”.

As my dad and I walked along a cliff above the Giant’s Causeway, I told him that if I had any doubts that this island has become my home, they were gone because of this visit. I saw a look of confusion cross his face and realized how that statement could be taken wrong. It could sound a bit like I was saying that having him and Mom visit showed me that being thousands of miles away really was a good thing…. I quickly explained my comment with the true reason for my realization…

I was experiencing an unexpected pride with every new piece of my island that I got to show off. I loved that I could finally show off the beauty of this country to people I love, and that they could see how happy I am here.

As much as I miss people back in the States, I cannot imagine living anywhere else right now.

Here (in no particular order) are some photos of the places and things we got to experience…

The amazing thing to me is that there were customers there!

 

Vanishing Lake

Vanishing Lake

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A full Irish breakfast – YUM!

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Mullaghmore

 

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St. Columba’s Church in Drumcliff

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The Giant’s Causeway

Saul Church outside Downpatrick - Believed to be the site of St. Patrick's first church.

Saul Church outside Downpatrick – Believed to be the site of St. Patrick’s first church.

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Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin

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Sunset over the River Liffey in Dublin

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The Dark Hedge

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Downhill beach and Mussenden Temple

 

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A view from Hazelwood Park

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View from Knocknarea

 

Dun Luce castle - believed to be C.S. Lewis' inspiration for Cair Paravel

Dun Luce castle – believed to be C.S. Lewis’ inspiration for Cair Paravel

 

The "chimney" at the Giant's Causeway

The “chimney” at the Giant’s Causeway

Some of the ruins at Glendalough

Some of the ruins at Glendalough

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The cairn at the top of Knocknarea

 

Enjoying the Northern Irish coastline

Enjoying the Northern Irish coastline

I will never tire of views like this.

I will never tire of views like this.

Tulips! My mom's favorite.

Tulips! My mom’s favorite.

View from the ridge above the Giant's Causeway

View from the ridge above the Giant’s Causeway

Mother daughter selfie at Glencar Waterfall

Mother daughter selfie at Glencar Waterfall

Kilkenny Castle

Kilkenny Castle

Trinity College Library - Dublin

Trinity College Library – Dublin

At the Upper Lake in Glendalough

At the Upper Lake in Glendalough

The Joys(?) of Living in Ireland!

I can’t believe that I am nearing the 10 month mark of living in Ireland. (Well, minus those 6 weeks I traveled as a homeless wanderer through the UK.) Anyways, it’s been an interesting 10 months, and I thought it was about time I wrote about some of the things that this Florida/Colorado girl finds exciting about life here.

Weather – I’ve lived at least a decade in both Florida and Colorado, and though they are very different, one thing unites them. I heard it said of both of them that if you don’t like the weather, stick around for half an hour and it will likely change. That statement was true of both places too. Weather could be a bit unpredictable.

However, my definition of “unpredictable weather” has changed since arriving in Ireland – much the same as my definition of “mountains’ changed upon moving to Colorado. In the half hour before I began writing this post the scene out my window went from cloudy with a mixture of snow, hail and rain blowing in wind gusts of nearly 50 MPH, to sun with little or no wind, to rain and hail with the sun as a backdrop, and then to cloudy, windy and dry.

My friends, if you don’t like the weather here, too bad. It will change any second, but that change will probably last a minute or ten at best. You might as well just layer up, make sure you’ve got a raincoat, and move along with your plans. It’s not often dry, but it’s usually exciting! 🙂

Taps – When moving to Ireland I expected things to be different in some aspects. I expected to be confused at times, but I had no idea that sinks would be a culprit. In my experience, most sinks have a single tap with two separate pipes delivering water to it. One brings cold water, and if you’re lucky the other brings hot. By using the valves controlling each supply correctly, you can achieve a comfortable temperature at which to wash your hands or complete whatever task has brought you to the sink.

I have found that many sinks here in Ireland missed out on the memo that both hot and cold water could be delivered through the same tap. The result of this is the user being left with a difficult – sometimes painful – choice. When washing my hands in my bathroom, I can choose to cleanse them with water that feels as though it was just delivered by a passing glacier OR I can decide that I’d rather try to get a thorough clean by sterilizing them with water that nearly rolls out of the tap at a boil. Happily, the hot tap does take a bit of time to reach those temperatures, so if it has been long enough between uses and I am quick enough, I can get clean and warm hands without the necessity of burn cream.

Language/phrases – Ah, the English language. Anyone who has traveled even to different areas of the USA (or any other English-speaking country) knows that speaking the same language doesn’t guarantee understanding. I knew many of the words and phrases that I would encounter when coming here. I knew that if I wanted a cookie, I should ask for a biscuit. If I want something similar to what I would normally call a biscuit, I should get a scone. Most things didn’t take me long to switch in my brain.

The first phrase I discovered that was completely new was a way of stating a time. Where I would typically say “six-thirty” if I saw 6:30 on a clock, people here said “half-six”. That makes perfect sense, but it still took some getting used to.

Another phrase I hear a lot from some people is “yer man”. When watching a tennis match with a friend, she kept saying, “yer man’s playing very good” or “oh, yer man slipped”, etc. I didn’t say anything at the time, but I was so confused. The running monologue in my head went something like this: “I don’t have a man. He’s not mine. I’m not even cheering for him. I want the other guy to win.” After subsequent conversations with this friend and others, I have realized that this is a generic phrase to refer to any random guy. Thankfully, I have realized that all of the men my friends mention do not in fact belong to me.

The final word that continues to confuse me is tea. When someone invites me for tea, I still have to figure out whether I should expect a cup of tea or an evening meal. Obviously the time of day is a clue, but if it’s getting near evening hours, I’m lost. I will admit that I have on occasion eaten a small amount of food before visiting my friends because I figured if I am served a meal the small salad I ate at home will not keep me from enjoying a portion of the dinner; however, if I am offered a cup of tea and biscuits, I will not starve or eat an entire plate of “digestives”.

Daylight – Having spent most of my life far closer to the Equator, I’m used to the sun being a bit more present during the day. Of course there were months when it wasn’t bright outside as early or late, but I don’t believe it was ever like this. At the moment, I must admit it is a bit difficult to get moving in the morning because the sun doesn’t show itself until nearly 9:00 am. While the days are beginning to get longer now, and the sun stays out until about 4:30 pm, the evenings still seem long. Just think, though, in a few short months I get to look forward to days that go from about 4:00 am until 11:00 pm again. I know there are many places in the world where this is the case, but it’s new to me, and it has taken some adjustment.

Home – That’s nearly enough for now, but I’ll mention one final thing that caught me off guard in moving to Ireland. I had no idea how quickly this place would become home. I don’t know how long I’ll be here, but I do know that if I leave, a part of me will stay behind. I will always love Ireland with its quirks and even its frustrations. This is my home for as long as God will allow it be!

His Grace is Sufficient.

Yes, I am still alive! I have made it safely back to western Ireland, and I am getting settled back into my home. Of course, I don’t actually have a place to unpack yet, but I am remembering my way around town and beginning the search for housing again.

I know you’ve all been waiting on pins and needles for the next story from my adventure, so here goes…

Off we go...

Off we go…

As part of my trip, I met up with a dear friend to do some walking and praying along the coastal path in Somerset. The first day, we set out in the morning for a day of walking, and things were going pretty well for a bit. And then it started…

You see, nearly a year ago, I messed my knee up, and it has never quite recovered. I knew asking it to carry me for 10 miles in a day was a bit much, but I was NOT going to miss out on this chance to walk/hang out/pray with my friend whom I had not seen in years. For the first couple of miles, I barely felt anything, but by the half-way mark it was hurting a fair bit. As the trail got more difficult to navigate with my cloth sneakers and mud, my knee got more and more unhappy with the pressure it was under to keep me upright and moving forward.

We stopped for a late lunch and I began to pray about whether I should catch a bus back to our accommodation or finish the remaining 3 or so miles. I wanted to be wise, and not allow my pride to cause injury. As I prayed, I felt like I should finish the allotted miles for that day, and by the grace of God, I did.

By the time we arrived at the bus stop to await our chariot back to Minehead, I could barely walk. From my waist down to my toes on the right side, everything hurt with every step, but I made it. As I struggled through each step of those final miles, I prayed about the future of my walks with my friend. I had set out to walk with her nearly every day for a week, and that didn’t look likely at this point.

That’s when I realized a glaring omission in my planning and preparation. I hadn’t prayed about whether I was meant to embark on this walk in the first place. I am always in awe of the grace that God extends for the tough things as we follow Him, but what about when we step out on our own?

There is incredible strength to be found as we walk in His grace, but when we step outside of His calling, even for good things, we are moving in our own strength. Based on my experience during this walk, I can’t help but wonder how much of the joy that becomes our strength is the result of knowing that you’re doing as He has asked. Because I wasn’t convinced for much of that day that I was, in fact, following His direction for me, it seemed really difficult.

After praying, I decided to have a day to myself the next day, and my friend carried on walking without me. I spent time that day having fun in the pool, relaxing, and praying for my friend and about whether I should walk the next day or not. I realized during the time I spent listening to God that I was not called to change Britain by walking with my friend. My prayers might make a difference for the Kingdom of God on that island, and prayer never hurts, but I cannot take on the calling of someone else.

As I walked that first day, I was trying to walk in the calling that God has given to someone else, and it wasn’t working. The grace that she has for that journey does not extend to me because that calling does not extend to me, and grace follows calling.

Let me take a moment to clarify one thing. When I speak of grace in this context, I do not mean the Grace by which followers of Christ are saved. That Grace extends to anyone who will accept it, and there is no limit! The grace I am referring to is the supernatural strength to walk through difficulties. It is what the apostle Paul was referring to in 2 Corinthians 12:9. It is God’s power made perfect in weakness.

So, what was I called to do during that week I was spending with my friend? I was called to be a blessing to her, and the best way to bless her the following day was to join her on the journey again. With that realization came the knowledge that His grace would indeed be sufficient even though I wasn’t sure I could do another full day of walking.

Wait.  That doesn’t make sense… I’m called to do another full day of walking? How is that different from the first day? I’m doing the same thing…

Yes. I was putting one foot in front of the other, setting out for a day of walking that in many ways turned out to be more difficult than the first. There was more mud (ankle deep in places), bugs that left my ankles red, itchy, and inflamed for days, a lack of water that made me wonder if I would pass out, blisters that got infected, and a very close call with even making it back to our room that night… (We got to the bus stop 4 minutes after the last bus of the day was scheduled to depart. Thank God the bus was 5 minutes late!)

The difference that day was that I knew I was meant to be there, and I knew why. That knowledge brought joy that I was walking (literally) in what I was called to do for that moment, and that joy brought strength that carried me through every step, every tear. There is something very freeing and empowering about knowing that you are fulfilling your purpose, no matter how small it may seem in the grand scheme of things.

That second day wasn’t the last I spent walking with my friend either. The final day, we spent most of it walking on the beach, and it was wonderful! Oddly, though, that isn’t the day that first comes to mind when I think of my time walking with my friend along the West Somerset Coastal Path. That honor nearly always goes to the day that was beyond hard and yet filled with the knowledge that there was a purpose in the steps, and therefore a special grace on each one.

I think a lot about identity, calling, and purpose because the passion that God has put in me is to see others discover those things. This experience was another reminder of why that passion is so important. Knowing why we do what we do – and whether we are called to do it – can make all the difference in the world. Too often we see the things others are doing, and see no reason we shouldn’t join them in their endeavors.

We should all be praying and sharing our faith and trying to bring justice where it isn’t. The danger is trying to fill the role that God has given someone else because it seems noble or exciting or whatever else. Maybe we just don’t know what our calling is, and so it seems good to join in someone else’s. If God has not called us to walk that path, it is not our journey to walk, and the grace for those steps don’t extend to us.

Does that mean we should just stand still until we know which path is ours? No. Pray, seek wisdom, use your brain and work to bring God’s Kingdom to earth. Just do those things in God’s strength, and be open to hearing God say that isn’t your calling. Most people aren’t born knowing what they are called to do, and callings change sometimes with the seasons of life. Be aware of when the grace lifts or isn’t there to begin with, and let that be a clue that perhaps you aren’t called to that path.

We will all have difficulties along our path, but His grace is always sufficient!

My Cereal Box Sign…

A few days ago, I posted on Facebook about my first experience ever of standing on the street with a cardboard sign. I was asked for the whole story, so I thought it was about time for a new blog post. 🙂

I have mentioned previously that I am currently traveling around the UK looking at sites that have significance in Christian history. During the past 3 weeks, I have visited Armagh, Downpatrick, Saul, and Belfast in Northern Ireland, Paisley, Glasgow, Oban, the Isle of Mull, the Isle of Iona, Edinburgh, St. Andrews, Melrose, and Roslin in Scotland, and Holy Island and York in England. (Not all of these places held significance for my research, but they are places I have traveled.)

Last Thursday was the day I had planned to leave Scotland and travel to Holy Island. I had been given the names of a couple living there whom I should contact for help both with my research and with getting to the island (which is a tidal island). When I called them a couple of days prior to this portion of the trip, I was told there may or may not be a bus running to the island that day (which I already knew there wasn’t), so my best option for travel was to take a bus from the train station in Berwick-Upon-Tweed to a place called Beal. From there it is 2-3 miles across the causeway and then another 1-2 into the town on Holy Island, so the recommendation was to make a sign that said “Holy Island, please?”

After that phone call, I also began looking online for accommodation on the island. Without knowing it, I had chosen to arrive on the island for the first half of a bank holiday weekend… I called nearly every hotel and B&B on the island, but there wasn’t a single vacancy. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure a wanted a vacancy because I wasn’t convinced I could afford a room. Prices for a single room ranged from 50-85£ per night – which, with the exchange rate, is nearly $100-170!

I finally found a place with a vacancy the night before I was leaving. It would cost 60£ a night, and it was across the causeway from the island. So, I began asking God if I should take that room. It would mean less time on the island because I would only cross on the Friday morning and then have to be back across that evening before the tides came in. I wanted to experience the quiet of the island during the evenings when the tourists had gone, rushing to beat the tides, but maybe that wasn’t necessary after all.

In the end, I decided to step out on a limb with God. The worst that could happen was that I would have to find a bench to spend the night on, or that I would have to leave the island and hope that room on the mainland was still available – provided I could get a lift)… Right? I felt like God was asking me to stop planning for a bit and just let Him show up for me, whatever that looked like.

Of course, when I woke on Thursday, it was to the sound of a downpour. The weather had gone from sunny and very warm on Wednesday to cold, windy, and pouring. However, I continued with my plan, so as I finished my cereal, I saved the box for a later part of my journey and off I went. 🙂

The train trip was fairly uneventful, and after about an hour the bus which would drop me at Beal arrived. Unfortunately, the bus was having some issues, and it kept stalling. Eventually we arrived at my stop, and I do hope that the bus made it through the rest of its route.

Because of the tide times, I had a bit of a wait until the causeway opened, so I bought lunch and enjoyed it while standing inside the convenience store. As my current host would say, it was raining cats, dogs, gerbils and a number of other things.

Finally, it was time to try out my sign. I had borrowed a pen at the train station, and my cereal box was now a cry for help. 🙂 The cry was heard, and after only about 10-15 minutes, I was in a car with a lovely couple headed for Holy Island.

After a pause in a cafe to warm up with some hot cocoa, I made my way to the home of my contacts. There, I was treated to tea and a very enjoyable and informative chat about the history of some of those who were part of spreading the gospel throughout this land during the centuries following the fall of the Roman empire in Britain.

Before I left the house, with one phone call, arrangements had been made for me to have accommodation in a house with the most beautiful view of Lindisfarne Castle, a short walk from every place a needed to visit, and a lovely lady who provided breakfast each morning. All of this for less than half the price of the hotel I nearly settled for on the mainland.

Would God have provided the money if I had made a reservation to be safe? Of course, but where is the fun in that? If I learn nothing else on this journey, I have more proof than ever, that God is faithful. Using wisdom is a must, and I highly doubt you’d find me hitching a lift into London or some place like that. However, planning too much and leaving no room for God to show up and surprise you can be dangerous too. I’m sure I would have enjoyed a day on Holy Island with the comfort of a room to go back to, but I would have missed out on the adventure of stepping out of the boat and seeing Jesus show Himself faithful again… Always.

Perspective

The weeks of travel have begun, and I must say God is taking my level of anticipation a bit higher each day. He is providing contacts, accommodations, transportation, and opportunities that I had not imagined.

Only a week into this adventure, and already, I cannot choose just one highlight. Each day has held a special moment or event or connection of some sort.

However, there is a moment that stands out in my mind as I think about the last week because it was a tangible fulfillment of God’s promises to me. I found a random photo of a sunset behind a little church to serve as my desktop background on my computer last year as I prepared to come here. It was my reminder that God had promised I would make my home on the Emerald Isle, at least for a time.

On Saturday, I took a bus from Belfast to the town of Downpatrick. A couple of miles outside that town is a beautiful little church, the same little church that has been at home on my computer screen for the last several months. This is my own photo of it.
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I was so excited to see this little building that represented the promises of God to me for a while, but there was something far more interesting that I found when I got there….

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I don’t know how accurate the information on this sign is, as I have a sign from another church that claims it was where St. Patrick established a church. It is accepted that this is a likely spot for the beginnings of his ministry in Ireland, but honestly, who really knows the exact location?

What did strike me about this is that there was a church established in this locale nearly 13.5 centuries before my country was founded. Yes, I realize the land was there, and there were people living there. I’m not here to get into the politics surrounding the beginnings of what is now the United States of America. The reason I bring this up is that it once again gave me the perspective of how small I am in the grand scheme of things.

Somehow seeing buildings that are older than my country has a way of bringing into focus how relatively new the USA is in the annals of history. I know many people (both from the USA and not) who become so ethnocentric, so focused on the history, accomplishments or contributions of their own nation that they forget it is not the center of the globe, let alone the universe… I don’t often find myself thinking that way, but there is something about realizing how “young” the USA is that solidifies that acknowledgement.

In addition to the realization that the USA is young, I have a new appreciation for how big it is. In the past 2.5 weeks, I have been on the  coast at each side of this island – north, south, east and west. In fact, I looked it up, and to drive from the southwest side of the island to the northeast would likely take 7 hours or less. By contrast, driving from Seattle, WA to Miami, FL would take 48 hours or more…

These realizations combined could make one feel very insignificant. I am one person from a massive country that has been in existence a fraction of the time that buildings I’m seeing have been standing. And yet, I am feeling quite the opposite. In the midst of realizing how small I am, I have seen how BIG the story I have been invited into is.

As I travel and meet people and learn more about the men and women from centuries past, I am seeing more and more that they were incredible people. I am also reminded that they were still people. St. Patrick was an incredible fellow, and his story is fascinating – no matter what version of it I happen to read! 🙂 I believe the most significant thing about his story though, is the same thing that makes the heroes of faith from Hebrews 11 and throughout history stand out from the crowd…

He said yes to God.

He answered a call to serve God no matter the circumstances. He was willing when others questioned his sanity. He obeyed the God he knew and loved, and because of his obedience and love for God, the world is a different place today.

I had an interesting conversation yesterday with a man who once considered himself a Christian. During the hours after I met him, he explained to me why he no longer believes in the things he was taught as a child. As the conversation progressed he asked me why I believe we are here. I answered something along the lines of God wanting others with whom to share relationship.

While this man believes in an almighty being and creator, when I asked him the same question, his answer was something along the line of “to play our part”. I don’t have time to fully explain the conversation, and honestly, I’m not sure I would be able to if I did have time. Suffice it to say that in his mind, we are “cells” in the organism of earth, and we are here simply to do our part to keep the whole being healthy. (If I understood correctly in my sleep deprived state, the earth is also a part meant to work toward the health of the next level out which is the solar system, I think…)

Maybe I’m being picky, but that doesn’t seem to answer my question. If a creator was involved in the beginning of these systems within systems, what is the purpose of any of it. If each is only there to sustain the life of the greater system, why make the first system to begin with? What is the overall purpose? If I am meant only to be a cog in a wheel, I’d like to know what the purpose of the wheel is.

That story may seem out-of-place in a post about St. Patrick and old buildings, but in my mind they are connected. As I thought about what I might have said differently yesterday (had I had the chance to really say anything), I realized that all of this really is about perspective. The lens through which we see reality, God and ourselves makes a huge difference in how we live.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be a cog in a wheel. My existence is not just a means of making some grand cosmic system function, and neither is yours! No matter how old or young, big or small your place of origin is, no matter what good or bad things have happened in your past, no matter how small you feel in the scheme of things, you have an important part to play in history.

God is the Almighty Creator, and He has a very good reason for knitting you together in the way He did. As you are in relationship with God, responding to Him, and willing to say yes, you, like St. Patrick, can be part of shaping history for centuries to come!